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What Inspires a Top Chef Food Stylist?

As the second part of our series of guest food bloggers (Jamie Lauren being our first), 7x7 welcomes food stylist Katie Christ. Katie worked as Culinary Producer for the first season of Top Chef and in 2008, she won the first ever Food Network Challenge for food stylists. Tune in to get a taste of Katie’s inspirations as she eats and drinks her way through our fair city.

I’m often asked, ‘What exactly IS a food stylist?’ My usual pitch goes something like, ‘I prepare and style food for photography and film. You know— the photos of food you see in magazines, cookbooks and on packaging in the grocery store? Those are some of the projects I work on.’ (And no, we don’t only use trickery and ‘fake food’—I like to think of food styling more as makeup for food.)

Of course, I’m always on the lookout for innovative food presentation. I lucked out a few months back at a moment when I was in dire need of some inspiration. I had somewhat reluctantly accepted an invitation from the Food Network to participate in their first-ever challenge for food stylists and I knew ahead of time one part of the competition would be to create a banana split using fake ice cream.

On the eve of my departure for the competition, I had dinner at Conduit restaurant. I’d been pondering the presentation of the banana split and figured out all but one aspect of it—what to do with the banana (I know, it sounds ridiculous!) When it came time for dessert, I spied an ice cream sundae on Conduit’s menu. Given the beautiful plating of the savory dishes, I figured it’d be worth taking a gander to just see if maybe the sundae could offer some inspiration. Although there weren’t any bananas involved, my inspiration arrived in a pair of little wafer cookies planted in the back like criss-crossed bunny ears. It was one of those cartoon light bulb moments. I’d found it!

Not only did Conduit help me win the banana split part of the competition, I saw that one of my fellow competitors continued the homage by using—ahem—‘similar’ styling for a sundae in a recent magazine spread. I hear imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so thanks, my friend! And I’m grateful to the kitchen at Conduit for letting me get some sleep that night and for continuing to inspire me every time I stop in. (The fish and chips plating the other night was brilliant!)

What else has inspired me lately? The salumi cone at Boccalone. I guarantee someday that playful idea will percolate into something fun.

Banana split from the Food Network Challenge, Photographer:Frances Janisch; Conduit Sundae; Salumi cone from Boccalone